Why Charging Your Phone in Public Places Is Risky

Charging a cellphone in public
Photo by Milkovasa / Shutterstock.com

Cellphones are a part of life, and it’s hard to imagine being without them — even when traveling.

But every time you charge your phone or other device using a public USB power-charging station — such as those at an airport, hotel or other public location — you put yourself at risk of exposure to malware, experts says.

In fact, late last year, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office bluntly said all travelers should avoid using such stations.

The danger is related to something called “juice jacking.”

According to the District Attorney’s Office:

“In the USB Charger Scam, often called ‘juice jacking,’ criminals load malware onto charging stations or cables they leave plugged in at the stations so they may infect the phones and other electronic devices of unsuspecting users.”

Once these crooks infect your phone or other device, they can lock the device or export your data and passwords.

Earlier this year, expert hacker Bryan Seely told WCVB — the Boston ABC affiliate — that juice jacking can be used to access banking apps, contacts, emails and text messages in just minutes.

According to Seely, most cellphone users never detect the malware after it has infected their phone.

“That’s the danger,” Seely says. “Never, ever, ever use public chargers.”

How to protect yourself from ‘juice jacking’

So, what can you do to protect your phone? WCVB says you can buy a data blocker that shields your phone at public ports. You can find one for sale at Amazon for less than $7, but it’s not your only option.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office suggests other tips for staying safe. They include avoiding USB charging stations and instead charging your phone the old-fashioned way: via an AC power outlet with your own charger.

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